After more than 80 years serving up bread, sandwiches and donuts across the Island, the last Humphreys Bakery location will shut its doors in May. The closure puts an end to an Island mainstay that spans three generations.

The decision was not an easy one, said owner Donna Diaz.

“I can’t even really put it into words how I’m feeling, I’ll get emotional saying it, but I just appreciate everybody so much,” she said in a recent interview. “Now it’s time to just do other things...I’m getting older, and I want more time with my grandkids.”

The current iteration, called Life at Humphreys, is located in Vineyard Haven in the Woodland Village complex. It opened in 2005 and in 2018 formed a partnership with the former Slice of Life restaurant.

Prior locations included stores in Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, and the iconic West Tisbury bakery at the corner of State and North Roads, across the street from the historic oak tree that marks the turn to Menemsha.

Edgartown storefront at Winter street was part of the expansion of the franchise. — Mark Alan Lovewell

But the story begins nearly a century ago, when Ms. Diaz’s grandfather, Argie Humphreys, began selling baked goods at the Farmer’s Cooperative Market, a predecessor to the West Tisbury Farmer’s market that ran from 1936 to 1941.

In 1942, he opened a storefront on Vineyard Haven’s main street called Vineyard Food Shop, which began as a cooperative market but shifted to focus on Argie’s baked goods. Argie stayed at that location, the current site of Waterside Market, until 1952 when he moved it to West Tisbury, a daring move according to Ms. Diaz.

“There were a lot of doubters because at the time no businesses left Main Street,” she said. “He did a really bold move.”

Reporting on the change in locations, the Vineyard Gazette noted that only a few businesses had made the move to that part of West Tisbury since 1900.

“Westward the course of empire makes its way, even on the Vineyard,” the Gazette wrote.

But it turned out to be a shrewd decision, with many devoted customers making the pilgrimage from all over the Island.

Marcos Alves baking the bread at West Tisbury location. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“He grew it and added on to the building and added more products and just kept going with it until he retired sometime in the 70s,” Ms. Diaz said.

Argie’s son Bart, Ms. Diaz’s uncle, took over the business after his father stepped down. Ms. Diaz began working there as a child, eventually taking over the business in 1992 with her then-husband, Michael Diaz.

“Mike actually worked with Bart and learned how to make all the bread,” she said. “He worked with him for a long time to really learn the family recipes. He busted his butt working there.”

It was under the Diaz’s that the brand saw its most explosive period of growth, with the pair expanding the store’s donut and sandwich options, and opening the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs locations.

“It just sort of blew up after we took it over,” she said. “We added sandwiches, added a deli, added a whole bunch of new stuff.”

But in 2004, following the death of Bart Humphreys, there was an ownership dispute among the surviving relatives.

“There ended up being a big family dispute when my uncle died,” she said. “You know how family stuff goes.”

Bart’s sister Joyce Humphreys inherited the West Tisbury building and sued Michael and Donna for use of the Humphreys name, which they had copyrighted. The Diaz’s ultimately kept control of the business and the name but had to vacate the West Tisbury storefront, prompting them to open the Vineyard Haven location, while continuing to run for a time the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs stores.

After her divorce, Ms. Diaz brought in Slice of Life chef Peter Smyth as a business partner in 2018, merging their brands and recipes. Since Mr. Smyth joined the fold, she said, his fried green tomato sandwich has joined the Humphreys Turkey Gobbler sandwich as one of their most popular items.

Through the past two decades of change, even as the franchise shrunk to just one location, Ms. Diaz said a strong sense of history remained.

“What I do love, and I feel really blessed about in my particular business, is that when I’m behind the counter and talking to the customers on a daily basis, I still to this day have people that come in and say, I worked for your grandfather, I had my first job here when I was 15 years old,” she said.

“That’s actually the piece that’s making it the hardest for me. I know it’s the right time. But I’m also really, really sad to lose that and I’m sad for all the customers.”

Ms. Diaz said she will shift into semi-retirement, working part time at a nonprofit and taking the summer holidays off for the first time in decades. She and her daughter are also working on a Humphreys recipe cookbook.

“I’m sorry that another piece of Vineyard history is going but it will come back in a different form, I’m sure,” she said. “I just feel really, really lucky and thankful.”

Life at Humphreys final day is May 15.

Editor's note: the writer is not related to the Humphreys family.